Archie Franklin Williams
May 1, 1915 – June 24, 1993
Archie Franklin Williams was an American U.S. Air Force officer, athlete, and teacher, winner of 400-meter run at the 1936 Summer Olympics. As recorded on his birth certificate, his name is Archie and not Archibald
Archie Williams was a teammate of Jesse Owens, one of ten black Americans on that 1936 USA team at the Berlin Olympics. And while
he didn’t get the fanfare of Owens, Williams was already the owner of the world record time in the 400 meters, and would go on to win the gold medal in the 400 in Berlin. After the Olympics, Williams went on to graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in mechanical engineering, Williams was in the first Civilian Pilot Training class in 1939 at Oakland, CA. After earning his private pilot’s license, he earned his instructor rating and was later a civilian instructor at Tuskegee. Entering the service in late 1942, he was one of only 14 African-Americans who were commissioned during World War II in the aviation meteorological cadet program; he graduated from the UCLA program on 6 September 1943. By September 1944, he was in the first Service Pilot training class at Tuskegee and, after graduation, instructed flight cadets in instrument flying as well as teaching meteorology. After the war, he earned qualification as a line pilot and then attended the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1948–1950 earning a B.S. in engineering sciences; he and fellow Tuskegee meteorologist Milton Hopkins were the 3rd and 4th black AF officers to attend this prestigious program. Williams remained a weather officer and rated pilot his entire career, earning his command pilot rating and commanding several weather detachments before retirement from the air force in 1964.
A serious leg injury at a meet in Sweden in 1936 ended his running career, but he became a commercial pilot. During World War II, which Williams once whimsically referred to as his “return to the Olympics—in the Pacific,” Williams was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and retired from the military 22 years later as a lieutenant colonel. A flight instructor while in the air force, Williams remained in education following his military retirement and taught mathematics and computers in California high schools. Archie Williams was a teacher for 21 years until his retirement at age 72 in Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo. He was noted for his love for teaching and helping students, including future author Konrad Dryden.
Williams’s life and legacy are a source of inspiration that reflects the values and principles we wish our children to learn. His story is one of perseverance in standing up to forces of systemic oppression, discrimination and racism, the drive to excel in learning and to serve and give back.
Sir Francis Drake High School was renamed Archie Williams High School in 2021, after the George Floyd protests spurred a worldwide reexamination of place names and monuments connected to racism.
Personnel of the Tuskegee weather detachment, which served with both the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bomb. circa 1944.
Pictured (front row, left to right): Lt. Grant Franklin, Lt. Archie Williams, Capt. Wallace Reed, Lt. John Branche, Lt. Paul Wise and Lt. Robert Preer.